The Vancouver Canucks need this version of J.T. Miller more

JT Miller #9 of the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
JT Miller #9 of the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

There is no doubt that the Vancouver Canucks need this current version of J.T. Miller.

It has been a less than inspiring start to the 2020-21 NHL season for the Vancouver Canucks, who are 4-5-0 on the year and sit fourth in an incredibly close and competitive North Division. They beat up on the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday and will have the opportunity to do so again tonight as they look to take advantage of back-to-back games against one of the worst teams in the NHL.

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There is still something not quite right about this Canucks team, however, who tied a franchise record by allowing 24 shots in the first period alone, with only goalie Thatcher Demko stopping the Senators from heaping a whole lot of misery on a Vancouver team that has punched well below their weight so far.

Certain players have failed to deliver in the opening couple of weeks of the season, including superstar center Elias Pettersson which we examined here, but there were signs of life against the Ottawa Senators and J.T. Miller was at the very heart of what was a big and hugely important win for the Canucks.

Yes, it is important to not get too carried away by what happened last night given that the Senators will finish up as one of the worst teams in the NHL in 2020-21, but Vancouver needed to see more from certain players and they also needed considerable improvement from The Lotto Line, which is exactly what they got last night.

The Vancouver Canucks need peak J.T. Miller from this moment on

J.T. Miller recorded two goals – his line’s first two even-strength goals of the season – and he also tallied a primary assist on Pettersson’s power play goal in the second period, only his second goal of the year. Miller finished with three points (2 G, 1 A) in total and it was arguably his best and most productive outing of the season yet.

After truly thriving in his debut season with the Canucks in 2019-20 with 72 points (27 G, 45 A) in 69 regular-season games, big things were expected of Miller heading into this season and, while he currently sits on eight points (2 G, 6 A) in six games, he’s a -3 on the year and his line with Pettersson has largely been disappointing.

They were outshot 8-1 by the Senators at 5-on-5 in the first period and there is still a lot of work to be done, but we saw flashes of just how dangerous the Canucks are when the likes of Miller and Pettersson are on top of their games, and stud defenseman Quinn Hughes also benefited from that duo being back on it last night.

I mean, some of the plays made were truly mouthwatering, including Miller’s first goal with the game tied at 1-1 in the second period. Miller did a good job of forcing a turnover and, after Pettersson dropped the puck back to Hughes who jumped up to join the rush, Miller was in the right place at the right time to one-time the puck past Marcus Hogberg for what was his first goal of the year.

Miller displayed similar workmanship for his second goal of the night, battling hard to keep the puck in the zone before crashing hard to the net and being on hand to grab a Jordie Benn rebound before sniping it top-shelf. It was the kind of high-level play that was a staple of Miller’s repertoire throughout last year, and he is just able to drive play for the Canucks and make things happen.

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It was a huge step in the right direction for J.T. Miller and that usually dynamic top line in general and it was a throwback to peak J.T. Miller, a reminder of why he was so dangerous and dominant in his first year in Vancouver and his high-energy level of play also brings the best out of the likes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, which was on full display last night. J.T. Miller and that top line is the engine that makes the Vancouver Canucks tick and roll and they will need more of the same from both in order to put a difficult start behind them and start to really become a force in an ultra-competitive North Division. Make no doubt about it, J.T Miller makes this team tick and it is crucial that we see more of the J.T. Miller that we witnessed on Wednesday night, and not the version that struggled in the opening week of the 2020-21 season.